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Poise Under Pressure

Basketball is Psychology XII

Poise is the ability to stay consistent and keep internal balance no matter what is going on externally.


March is when poise seems most essential because the external environment can fill you with pressure. However, true poise comes from giving the same effort in offseason workouts, preseason practices, and exhibition games as you do in championship games. You develop poise by treating every practice like it’s a championship game, so when it really is a championship game, you simply have to give the same effort you give every single day.

To those who have developed poise, it doesn’t matter what the stakes are.

It doesn’t matter how many turnovers they’ve had.

It doesn’t matter how many minutes they have played.

It doesn’t matter how they feel.

It doesn’t matter what the other team is ranked.

It doesn’t matter how much time is left in the game.

It doesn’t matter if the other team is in a full court press.

It doesn’t matter what they crowd is yelling.

It doesn’t matter how many points they’ve scored.

When you put the pressure on yourself every day to give championship level effort, external pressures can’t put any extra demands on you, because you’ve already placed higher demands on yourself.


"Every championship team I've ever coached had the instinct to treat everything like it’s the most important thing in the world to them." - Geno Auriemma

You have to play with the same effort, intensity, and enthusiasm in practice as you do in a game when you are up by 50 or down by 50. Even if the odds have shifted against you, that is not an excuse to give up.

“Up 50 or up 10 or 2, we play the same way. The minute you change the way you play, the minute you get worse as a player.” - Diana Taurasi


Basketball is a game of runs. Those who can stay poised won’t be phased by the other teams’ runs, and won’t let up when their team makes a run.

An important factor to staying poised is your breathing: Dr. Rajpal Brar gives us insight on how to keep your composure:


Basketball is a game of composure – the players who can stay the calmest under pressure tend to have the best results. You can see the game clearer, think clearer, and therefore perform your best. From a scientific perspective, that calmness comes from an effective balance of what’s known as your autonomic nervous system (ANS).

The ANS consists of two different branches: The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) aka the “fight or flight” system which is the body’s stress response and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) aka the “rest and digest” system which is the body’s relaxation response.

As a basketball player, you need both of these systems. The SNS helps rev you up and mobilize your body’s resources and the PSNS helps calm you back down, allowing you to think and see the game.